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Theodore Roosevelt, October 27 1858-January 6, 1919
26th President, 1901-1909
Vice President: Charles W. Fairbanks
If ever there was a president who possessed all the glamour of our national identity, it was Teddy Roosevelt. As a British writer observed after a visit to the White House in 1903, "Roosevelt is not an American, you know. He is America." A larger-than-life leader, he faced every obstacle head-on, as was his wont-one of his favorite diversions as president was the "point-to-point" walk, in which he made himself follow a straight line to his destination, which occasionally entailed swimming fully clothed through ice-choked creeks.
Roosevelt was a frail and asthmatic child who took up boxing to develop stamina ("Survival of the fittest" would be his lifelong credo). He was a born naturalist who delighted in gathering up animal artifacts for study. And he was a brilliant scholar, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard and proceeding full steam ahead to Columbia Law School.
Roosevelt was only 23 when elected to the New York state assembly and 26 when appointed chairman of the state delegation to the Republican Convention in 1884. On Valentine's Day of that year, tragedy struck with a biblical conclusiveness: his beloved wife, Alice, two days after giving birth, died on the same night and in the same house as Roosevelt's mother. Retreating to the vast ranch he owned in the Badlands of the Dakota territory, he found solace in working as a cowboy and acting as deputy sheriff.
From 1889 to 1895 Roosevelt served as civil service commissioner under President Benjamin Harrison. From there he moved to New York City as police commissioner and was often to be found patrolling the streets himself. In 1897 President McKinley appointed him assistant secretary of the navy. As relations with Spain worsened, Roosevelt recruited herds of cowboys and former college athletes for the First United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, known to fame as the Rough Riders. Astride his mount, with a polka-dot scarf tied to his hat, he led the victorious charge on Kettle Hill.
In 1898 Roosevelt was elected governor of New York. Conservative Republicans alarmed at the prospect of his running for president nominated him as McKinley's vice-president in the hope that his political career would end right there. This strategy backfired when McKinley was fatally shot. Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest U.S. president ever.
In an effort to rein in the hitherto-unchecked power of big business, "TR" went on a "trust-busting" rampage, winning 25 indictments. When a United Mine Workers strike promised to drag on, he forced the mine owners to submit to mediation, becoming the first president to interfere in a labor dispute. He established the departments of Commerce and Labor, and expanded the military in keeping with his celebrated motto, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."
Roosevelt was unanimously reelected in 1904 and, always on the side of the little guy, presented the country with his signature Square Deal. He endorsed the Pure Food and Drug Act as well as the Elkins Act aimed at railroad corruption, and doubled the number of national parks and increased America's forest reserve by 150 million acres. In 1906 he bought Panama, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize. "I had a corking time in the White House," TR summed up.
Excerpted from Fandex Family Field Guides: Presidents. Copyright (c) . Reprinted with permission by Workman Publishing.